By Lisa Gonzales, Jessica Gunderson and Mara Wold
If you walk into a fourth-grade after school classroom, its appears on the surface that students are playing math games that reinforce multiplication tables. Drill down a bit and you’ll find these games are intentional, as the after school providers and classroom teachers have discussed how to support multiplication because benchmark testing showed weaknesses in concept mastery.
Collaborative planning time is at the heart of these activities, and the time is appreciated by both the teachers and the after school staff who support students who need extra help.
This example out of the Glenn County Office of Education is part of the SPARK program (Supporting Participation in Academics and Recreation for Kids), but is represented in thousands of schools every afternoon with the intentional academic alignment between staff of the school sites and after school programs, often called expanded learning programs or opportunities.
After school and summer program are huge assets to the school day. Kids need time to play, explore and have fun, and after school and summer staff are well suited to provide those kinds of experiences. When the expanded learning partners work closely with school staff, they can also set up the fun, out-of-school activities to reinforce learning from the school day. It’s a clear win for teachers, after school/summer staff, and – of course – kids.
Expanded learning programs have the unique potential at school sites where structured, facilitated conversations are taking place about student learning. They increase student time on task, highlight key concepts identified for student mastery, and more importantly, engage students with additional caring adults who provide support and help connect students to school.
In light of the new demands of the Common Core State Standards, no time could be better for expanded learning programs to emerge as an effective best practice to support student learning.
The strength of expanded learning programs
Increased learning time can be a critical factor in improving student outcomes. High quality expanded learning programs refer to a wide range of engaging, relevant learning opportunities that include before and after school programs as well as summer programs, all of which enhance the development of youth outside of regular school hours. A report from The National Center on Time and Learning indicated that significant benefits arise from more learning time, including opportunities for deeper engagement in content and more investment in student enrichment activities.
A robust body of research shows that these programs are effective at improving a range of student academic, social, emotional and physical outcomes. Research on California-based expanded learning programs suggests long-term positive effects on school attendance, improved English fluency, academic success, social and emotional outcomes, as well as reduced dropout rates and juvenile delinquency.
Accordingly, California has made a significant investment in expanded learning programs – more than $650 million annually in federal and state funding, more than the remaining 49 states combined. There are currently more than 4,200 publicly funded expanded learning programs across the state that serve about 400,000 students.
These programs serve students in communities most in need of additional supports. Ninety-seven percent of state and federal funding for expanded learning programs goes to students from low-income families, specifically targeting schools with at least 40 percent or more of the student body participating in the federal free/reduced priced meal program.